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Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 6/17/2009

Council Meeting June 8

09-0347--Floodplain Management--Development Regulations

This would apparently exempt the "Gateway South" development south of the M&T Bank Stadium from some environmental laws.

The Read: This item, submitted by the Dixon administration, was referred to the City Council's Land Use and Transportation Committee without comment. It would make an exception to the law that otherwise prohibits development in the floodplain, for development that "otherwise meets all of the requirements" of the law and is "located in the Carroll Camden urban renewal project area." The "Gateway South" development, with the Ravens' Ray Lewis as an investor, is projected to be a large mixed-use development housing Lewis' planned "Ray of Light Center" for at-risk youth, plus indoor athletic facilities. There has been talk of building the project to high environmental standards.

09-0330--Zoning--Video Lottery Facilities

Changes the M-2 (manufacturing) zone to allow slot machines.

The Read: This is part of Baltimore City's effort to be slots-friendly. Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) took the opportunity to again tout the alleged benefits of the slots parlor to be located, yep, just south of the M&T Bank Stadium in the Carroll Camden Redevelopment area. Slots, Rawlings-Blake said, will "lead to the largest property tax reduction in modern Baltimore history" at eight percent. "I could go on and on talking about the long-term benefits," she added. The bill passed second reader, so will require just one more council vote before the mayor can sign it into law. Mary Pat Clarke (D- 14th District) voted no.

09-0329--Urban Renewal--Carroll Camden--Amendment

This changes the zoning of the city's animal shelter at 301 Stockholm St. to M-2, making slots legal on that property in the event that the animal shelter decides to move. The bill passed second reader.

The Read: Dogs don't play slots. Dogs play poker.

09-0348--Fire and Police Employees' Retirement System--Benefits--Post Retirement Increases

This would end a system that boosted fire and police retirement pay during years when the system's investments did especially well.

The Read: The bill actually transfers the assets of two of the pension sub-funds, called the "paid-up benefit fund" and the "contingency reserve fund," into the larger pool of funds that benefit all retirees. Overall, the fire and police pension funds are woefully underfunded, owing to bad investments (the infamous Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff cost the fund about $3.5 million) and a series of deals allowing full pensions for early retirees. But these sub-funds were well-funded (albeit small). Councilwoman Clarke spoke out against the bill, saying it was not sufficiently retiree-friendly and would unfairly punish some retirees to benefit others. "They invested wisely and negotiated well for their benefits," she said in an interview later. "They rise when we rise and fall when we fall. It's a fair thing."

09-0349--"Quick-Take" Condemnation--Notice of Proposed Commencement

This would require the notification of the City Council member representing the owner of any land the city condemns under its "quick-take" provision, which speeds up the eminent domain process.

The Read: Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young (D-12th District) submitted the bill after noticing a constituent's land on the agenda at a recent Board of Estimates meeting. He says he knew the owner and knew he didn't want to sell. "I made a call to him and he was shocked to know it was put on quick-take," Young says. So the bill would prevent future surprises: "It's like a safety net for our constituents."

City Council meets next on July 13.

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